The Conflict between and within Genders: An Appraisal of Contemporary American Femininity and Masculinity*


  • *

    Discussion with David Haines, Anne Kasper, Joe Gittler, Lois Honon, Victoria Rader, and Max Schlueter contributed greatly to the argument pursued here. I would also like to thank Jessie Bernard, Peter Black, Tom Dietz, and Jeff Hammond for their remarks.


This discussion examines the conflicts inherent in contemporary American formulations of gender and concludes that conflict exists not so much between gender formulations as within each of them. Extending Carol Gilligan's (1982) analysis of sex-differentiated moral development, gender is treated as the distinction between an orientation of care, and one of autonomy. The care/autonomy distinction does not necessarily entail inter-gender conflict. Rather, that is attributable to cultural expectations of reciprocity. However, intra-gender conflict, i.e., the conllict within the formulations of gender, is shown to be extensive. Specifically, masculinity presumes equality and autonomy, yet functions to produce hierarchy and dependence, involves a contradiction between a principle of blanket autonomy and the preservation of self-interest, and requires an asocial stance. Femininity endorses powerlessness but produces power, requires a commitment to care which cannot be realized, and masks the fact that sacrifice is a matter of choice.